Food poisoning results from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

Food poisoning symptoms
Most people only experience mild symptoms, with only a small proportion needing medical attention. Symptoms can appear any time from several minutes to several weeks after eating contaminated food. The length of time it takes for the symptoms to appear really depends on the type of bacteria as well as the immune system of the infected person and the amount of organism the person ate. Typical symptoms can include;

  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting

In more serious cases, food poisoning victims may have nervous system problems like paralysis, double vision or trouble swallowing or breathing.

Food poisoning can be caused by

  • Eating undercooked or contaminated food which contains toxin producing bacteria.
  • Harmful germs such as salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli and listeria.
  • Preparing food to far in advance and then not storing it at the correct room temperature, i.e. not keeping it refrigerated.
  • Cooling food too slowly prior to refrigeration.
  • Not re-heating food to high enough temperatures to destroy food poisoning bacteria.
  • The use of cooked food contaminated with food poisoning bacteria.
  • Not thawing frozen meat or poultry for sufficient length of time.
  • Cross-contaminating raw food and cooked food.
  • Storing food below 63 C.
  • Infected food handlers who have poor personal hygiene.
  • Eating leftovers.

Types of food poisoning

  • Microbiological
  • Bacterial Infection
  • Bacterial Intoxication
  • Parasitical infection
  • Viruses
  • Chemical food poisoning – occurs when poisons are accidentally added to food.
  • Allergic reactions – an over reaction of the immune system to unwanted substances.

How long can food poisoning last?
Most bacterial food poisonings last for a few days and clear up on their own. Some people may need antibiotics to help their immune system fight and eventually destroy the bacteria.

Testing potentially contaminated food
You should never just rely on your nose, eyes or taste buds to judge if food is safe to eat. You cannot 100 per cent tell if food is contaminated by its look, smell or taste.

  • Do not taste food that looks or smells strange to check if you can still use it, instead just discard it.

Food poisoning in the summer
It’s a fact that food poisoning cases double over the summer.  This is because warm weather enables the bacteria to multiply faster, and also because people change their eating habits in the summer months, they tend to eat more cold food and have more buffets or barbecues where food is left out for long periods.

Recording and reporting food poisoning
If you have become ill through eating food then its important that you recount all the foods you have consumed over the previous week.

Who is most likely to suffer from food poisoning 
Food poisoning is more likely in a person whose immune system is impaired by sickness, age, or other factors. Most people rarely get sick from contaminated foods because their immune systems are strong enough to fight off infections.

Related links
Food hygiene course online